George LeMieux, who had more to do with the current state of gambling in Florida than you might think, told Tower Forum attendees Thursday that he doesn't see any major legislation making it through this year -- although he's against destination casinos and a new longer-term compact with the Seminole tribe of Florida would be beneficial.
LeMieux and Steve Geller spoke at a Tower Forum Thursday morning about gambling. LeMieux, a former U.S. Senator, served as Florida’s Deputy Attorney General and as the governor’s chief of staff. He is now shareholder of Gunster law firm. Geller, now a shareholder at Greenspood Marder, was a member of the Florida Legislature for 20 years, and has served as national president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS).
LeMieux was chief of staff when Charlie Crist was elected governor in 2006 (let's just leave it at that) and notes that almost immediately after Crist took office the Department of Interior was on the horn to them. That's because Florida voters had approved slot machines, and under federal law, the state had to negotiate a compact with the Seminoles.
He noted that Crist's predecessor, Gov. Jeb Bush, hated gambling and shunned any efforts to negotiate a compact.
"Gov. Bush had a unique way of ignoring request from the Department of Interior," LeMieux said. "His brother was president of the United States."
So LeMieux was part of a long meeting on tribal grounds that started with "a recitation of the Seminoles' grieveances, going back to the time of Andrew Jackson." (Not sure if he was joking...) That was the starting point, he said.
Federal law requires if Indians are to make payments to the state, there must be some kind of additional benefit, and that's how blackjack and other table games came to be, at about $1 billion for five years. (The compact was later voided because the legislature wasn't involved, then the legislature turned around and eventually approved a similar compact.)
Which puts us to today, when destination casinos, gambling expansion, etc., are on the table, and Spectrum Gaming's completion of a 12-scenario study for the state.
LeMieux then commented that he doesn't think destination casinos are necessary in Florida.
"I think we have enough gambling in Florida. This is a beautiful place, and we're approaching 100 million visitors a year," he said. "I don't think we need to double down on tourism." He wants the state to pursue other ways of growing the economy, noting that real estate, construction and tourism are big drivers, and when the economy tanked, those three were vulnerable.
Geller then remarked that no one really knows what's going to happen in the legislature, but LeMieux said, "My view is that comprehensive gaming will not happen. Too many fractioned special interests, including the Seminoles, Orlando and the pari-mutuels. Too many disparate groups."
A priority, LeMieux said, is for a compact similar to what we have now. "The state doesn't want to miss out on that $250 million a year." Then he added: "If the state wants to maximize revnue, they would give the Seminoles a longer period of time."
The tribe, for example, has said a five-year compact is enough enough to invest the money necessary to build, say, a hotel at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. That would increase profits, which the state would glean a part of.
Geller, as always, had several points that we need to remember. Sorry to rush through them but I want this posted quickly:
The Seminoles are often called a sovereign nation, but they are a sovereign state, which means they must comply with federal law.
Geller also speculates that nothing will get passed "just too many balls in the air." Also, "it is so easy to kill legislation and so hard to pass legislation."
While we use the word "passed" or "approved" in relation to the statewide slot amendment, the legislature always had the authority to add slots. They just put it on the voters -- which wasn't a bad thing.
Orlando's biggest opposition is not because of protecting family friendliness, it's conventions. "Right now, there are three choices in Florida if you want 1,500 rooms in the winter," he said. "Orlando, Orlando and Orlando. As a South Floridian, I believe they could share a little."
Lawyer David Singer asked the panelists if the next compact could include getting the Seminoles to comply with Florida's Clean Indoor Air Act. (The Seminoles allow smoking.) The short answer was no.
My longer answer is this: Banning smoking is bad business. The whole smoking-drinking-gambling thing goes together, as evidenced when Atlantic City tried a smoking ban, only to see business drop 15 percent -- and smoking quickly restored.
LeMieux is at left, with Geller and Kathy Koch, president of Ambit Advertising and Public Relations.
Todd I. Stone of The Stone Law Group was moderator at the Tower Club. Go to TowerForum.org.